WASHINGTON — Last Tuesday night offered the best chance so far for Republicans and Democrats to test the health care messaging that will carry them through election season. Dial test poll results from the days after the State of the Union and its Republican response gives some insight into what's behind the White House confidence about the law — and may explain why some Republicans are trying to turn attention to their own alternative reform legislation rather than continue with their "repeal at all costs" message.
Polling conducted by health care policy newsletter The Morning Consult in the day after the State of the Union and shared exclusively with BuzzFeed show voters are happy to hear that both sides agree America cannot revert to the health care system that existed before Obamacare. The law itself remains unpopular and polarizing, but President Obama's focus on the reform package's ban on preexisting condition discrimination and medical bankruptcy prevention in his speech garnered a more positive reaction even among the Affordable Care Act's critics.
Independents reacted much more negatively to the health care messaging in the State of the Union address than Democrats did, a result the pollster's analysis says "could spell trouble for Democrats at the polls come November." Independents were more positive about both the official Republican response delivered by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and the "tea party response" delivered by Utah Sen. Mike Lee. Those positive ratings jumped when the Republicans pledged there would be no "going back" to the pre-Obamacare days.
In general, the poll found people like it when politicians say America will not go back to the way things were before Obamacare, and they respond positively to the central White House focus on the banning of preexisting condition discrimination and the Affordable Care Act's aim of ending medical bankruptcy.
This is not to say Obamacare's opponents are warming to the actual law itself. Those who said they were opposed to the Affordable Care Act before Obama's address were still very much opposed to it after the address. But, like supporters of the law, they had a positive reaction to Obama talking about the ban of preexisting conditions and the end of medical bankruptcy. From the pollster's analysis of the findings:
Viewers who disapprove of the ACA recorded primarily negative views, but showed some positive increases when the president mentioned people being protected from financial hardship due to health costs and the fact that people cannot be denied coverage for a preexisting condition.
This group recorded the highest positive rate when the president used the line "if misfortune strikes, you don't have to lose everything," but did not get above -30. Impressions decreased as the president mentioned expanding coverage to young adults and Medicaid enrollments, back down to -50. But they increased back up to -30 when the president mentioned that people with pre-existing conditions could not be denied health insurance.
Republicans, who have spent years calling for the repeal of Obamacare by any means necessary, changed their tone a bit on State of the Union night. Both the official Republican and Tea Party response included the promise that Republicans would not go back to the way things were before Obamacare. Respondents to the Morning Consult poll reacted positively, though Democrats were not won over.
Independents registered a 10-point positive increase when McMorris Rodgers said the country could not go back to the way things were before the Affordable Care Act, and those ratings continued to increase in response to McMorris Rodgers saying health care choices should be personal.
Republicans' ratings mirrored those of independents, but at rates that were about 10 points higher. Democrats increasingly disapproved of the messages, with a small increase when McMorris Rodgers said we could not return to the health system we had before the ACA.
Lee also got a bump from joining in on the "let's not go back" efforts:
Independents registered a 10-point approval of Sen. Mike Lee's comments that the country could not go back to the old health care system, which gave too much power to health insurance companies, but needed a different solution from the ACA, which gave too much power to the government.
Independent voters did not like it when Obama got directly chided Republicans over health care opposition. The president threw some red meat to his Democratic friends during the State of the Union by chiding House Republicans for their dozens and dozens of Obamacare repeal votes.
"The first 40 were plenty," Obama said. "We got it."
Independent voters were not happy with the tone.
"Independent voters did not like when the president poked fun at Republicans' 40-plus votes to repeal the health reform law, recording negative ratings," the Morning Consult analysis found. "However, the snarky line did elicit positive responses from younger viewers."
Read the polling memo
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at email@example.com.
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